In Goa, a glaring disconnect between people’s concerns and political narrative

The narrative is centred around individuals, with neither the BJP nor the Congress interested in tackling real issues like unemployment or inflation.

Published : Apr 30, 2024 16:12 IST - 6 MINS READ

Viriato Fernandes, the Congress candidate from South Goa, during campaigning on April 23. His chief opponent is the BJP candidate Pallavi Dhempe, who belongs to one of Goa’s most influential families.

Viriato Fernandes, the Congress candidate from South Goa, during campaigning on April 23. His chief opponent is the BJP candidate Pallavi Dhempe, who belongs to one of Goa’s most influential families. | Photo Credit: PTI

Taxi driver stories during elections are no longer taken seriously. People call them out as entirely made up. In Goa, however, the taxi driver’s story is very much a part of the electoral narrative this time.

The story is simple. Goa recently got a second international airport in the district of North Goa. When the local people opposed the project, the government assured them that they would get 80 per cent of the jobs that would be created, including those in the taxi sector. In fact, the BJP government in the State even said that the airport area would have a quota for local taxi drivers.

Almost a year and a half after the airport’s inauguration, that promise has not been kept. Vishwanath Rawool, 36, a taxi driver in North Goa, is disappointed. He said: “I have never voted any other party in my life. We have voted for Shripad bhau [five-term BJP MP who is contesting this time too] all these years. But when the time came, the outsiders took the major share. This is cheating.” Asked if that meant he would not vote for the BJP this time, Vishwanath said: “We will have to talk to our community [caste] members and act as per the the decision of the community.”

Unemployment to the fore

According to data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), Goa has the second highest unemployment rate in the country. Anywhere you go in Goa, people talk about jobs. “Aamche chedu bekar bashlele asaat maare” (Our children are sitting unemployed) is the sentence that starts every political conversation.

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On whether this will affect the BJP’s electoral performance, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant said: “It is compulsory to be registered at the employment exchange centre for a government job, so all Goan girls and boys register here. Even after they get a private job or go abroad or study further, they do not deregister. This is why we see swollen data of unemployment.”

Voting for both constituencies in Goa is on May 7. In North Goa, the battle is between Shripad Naik of the BJP and Ramakant Khalap of the Congress. In South Goa, it is Viriato Fernandes of the Congress against Pallavi Dhempe of the BJP. In 2019, both parties won a seat each. In 2014, the BJP took both seats, and it is keen on repeating that performance.

North Goa is understood to be a BJP bastion. Shripad Naik was a Minister of State in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government of 1999-2004 and has been one since 2014, in both Modi governments. He is contesting from the seat for the sixth time.

On the possibility of voter fatigue, Naik said: “I have never asked for the party ticket. Our workers want me to contest. They are happy to see me as their MP.”

Naik became an MLA in Goa in 1994, when the BJP contested 4 of the 40 seats in alliance with the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), which was led by Ramakant Khalap, an advocate. Khalap was Naik’s main supporter then. A veteran Goan politician, Khalap left the MGP and joined the Congress 25 years ago. In 1999, Naik defeated Khalap to become an MP for the first time. Now, 30 years later, Khalap, who was out of power and active politics for 20 years, returns to face Naik yet again.

Avit Bagle, chief reporter od the daily Gomantak, said: “In a way, this is fresh start for Ramakant Khalap. Almost a generation has passed since he ceased to be an active politician. In Shripad Naik’s case, he has been there for five terms. So, people might think of a change. It is for Khalap and the Congress to seize the opportunity.”

South Goa poised for exciting battle

In South Goa, the BJP candidate, Pallavi Dhempe, belongs to one of Goa’s richest families, which was once engaged in mining. Chief Minister Pramod Sawant sought to downplay her background by stating that she was given the ticket for her social work. He said: “She has been active in football clubs, in women’s various programmes. Her husband, Shrinivas, is also active in Goan social life; he is a supporter of RSS’ many organisations.”

The Congress has fielded Navy veteran Captain Viriato Fernandes, a social activist who has been raising environmental issues in Goa for over a decade. He tried his luck in the 2022 Assembly election on the Congress ticket but lost by just 700 votes. His strength is his image of being a voice for Goan environment and culture.

Pramod Acharya, editor of Prudent Media, said: “The South Goa fight will be fierce. The BJP candidate has a lot of resources compared to the Congress, whose stronghold it traditionally is. The BJP will have to convince voters that Pallavi can truly represent their issues, while Viriato will have to use his limited resources smartly and bring every single supporting voter to the booth.”

Environmental issues

Apart from unemployment and inflation, Goa also faces environmental challenges. Diversion of the Mhadei river waters has been controversial. The river comes from the Sahyadri range of Karnataka and is a lifeline of Goa, but Karnataka has been building barrages on it in Belagavi district and diverting water through canals. Goa has gone to court. The barrage work in Karnataka started when the BJP was in power, so Goans are questioning the BJP government for not having taken steps to stop the work.

Another issue is that of railway line doubling on the Konkan Railway, which activists are opposed to. They claim that the doubling is being done to transport coal from Goa, but the Chief Minister said that “some people have a habit of opposing development”.

Also Read | ‘Goans have faith in Modi’s guarantee’: Pramod Sawant

Despite the existence of such issues, the election narrative is focussed on personal criticism of party leaders. Avertino Miranda, a social activist, is angry about this. He said: “The lack of commitment in the political class is driving real issues out of politics. No one is raising serious issues such as water shortage or environment degradation, not even the opposition.”

Interestingly, the Church of Goa has issued a statement asking its members to vote for a candidate with secular credentials. Whether this will have a reverse polarisation effect among Hindus is to be seen, but all political parties, including the BJP, have welcomed it. The BJP has gone so far as to call itself the “most secular party” on the grounds that it has more Catholic MLAs than the Congress in Goa.

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